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article imageDaiichi operator missed safety checks for 10 years

By Lynn Herrmann     Mar 24, 2011 in Politics
Tokyo - New documents centered on the crippled Daiichi nuclear plant near Fukushima reveal technicians repeatedly ignored mandatory safety checks over a 10-year time frame including up to two weeks before the March 11 disaster began.
As worst-case scenarios continue to make headlines, a report by Tokyo Electric Power Co.(TEPCO), the plant’s operator, reveals negligence in safety check performance covering a 10-year period prior to and leading up to the nuclear disaster, increasing the already mounting pressures on the company to reveal its reasoning for cost-cutting measures on spent fuel at the site.
In addition to those safety check failures, when the earthquake and tsunami struck, the plant’s reactors contained more spent fuel rods than its out-dated design allowed.
The Daiichi facility, designed by US scientists a half-century ago, contained the equivalent of almost six years of highly radioactive uranium fuel it had produced, according to a TEPCO presentation to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Guardian reports.
Just one month before the tsunami wreaked havoc on northeastern Japan, government regulators approved a request by TEPCO to extend the life of one its six reactors by another 10 years, even with warnings of stress cracks on its backup power generator, increasing the possibility of water damage.
Days after the disaster began, Michael Mariotte, director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), said: "The concern has been there all along that this containment building was not strong enough and the pressure containment system was not robust enough to prevent an explosion," according to the Guardian.
The NIRS has made public a 1972 letter (pdf) from the Atomic Energy Commission's Steve Hanauer recommending a discontinuation of the design used at Daiichi.
Chief scientist at the Low-Level Radiation Campaign and a founder of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, Dr. Chris Busby said on March 16: “Reassurances about radiation exposures issued by the Japanese government cannot be believed. They are based on an invalid risk model which the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) itself has admitted cannot be applied in accident situations,” according to John LaForge at CommonDreams.
TEPCO has admitted its failure to inspect 33 equipment parts inside the Daiichi facility’s cooling systems, including water pumps, according to the Guardian.
Earlier this week, TEPCO announced that radioactive material had entered the Pacific Ocean, detected around the discharge canal of the Daiichi nuclear facility.
On Wednesday, the New York Times noted the possibility of high radiation levels in the plant’s region could be the result of problems at Daiichi being “deeper than had been publicly acknowledged.”
On Thursday, the Yomiuri Shimbun Daily reported the Japanese government has instructed Fukushima Prefecture to halt shipments of broccoli and 10 other vegetables “as radiation levels far beyond legal limits were detected.” The government also ordered Ibaraki Prefecture to stop unprocessed milk and parsley shipments.
Japan’s Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry announced on Wednesday that radioactive material levels exceeding Food Sanitation Law provisional limits had been detected in broccolin, spinach, turnips, cabbage and seven additional vegetables from Fukushima, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun.
Six additional prefectures have been called upon to test their produce for radiation -- Miyagi, Yamagata, Saitama, Chiba, Niigata and Nagano -- including leafy vegetables and milk, particularly prone to contamination.
These six prefectures add to the growing list, including Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma, that either have, or are suspected of having, radiation contamination in their produce supply.
“It is assumed that the situation is the same [for other produce from these prefectures],” chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano said on Wednesday. “But even if those vegetables are eaten, it would not pose an immediate risk to human health. We expect to continue detecting radioactive materials in produce for some time, so people should refrain from eating them as much as possible, as a precaution,” he added, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun Daily.
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